What to do when your grant application isn’t successful

Harriet Stranks, Director of Grants explains what to do when your funding application hasn’t been successful. Our latest round of Invest applications has now closed.

Over the coming weeks, our Grant Managers will be busy, reviewing and assessing all the applications we’ve received. Some will pass through to the next stage which involves a site visit from their local Grant Manager so we can take the time to properly understand their funding needs and how a grant from us might help. Others might not even get to this stage and they will be informed that their request for funds has not been successful.

letterWhen we do reject funding applications, we send a personalised letter giving concrete reasons why the charity was not successful. Our Chief Executive Paul takes the time to sign all of these letters and often encourages charities to try again. Of course, it’s much more enjoyable to write letters telling charities they have been successful, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important writing those that aren’t.

Our letters encourage charities to contact their grant manager to discuss this feedback but it’s surprising how many charities do not take up this offer.

feedbackAsking for feedback can of course be an uncomfortable experience. We worry about what we will be told and that’s probably why around 95% of our applicants who aren’t successful don’t ask why they didn’t get funded. We know charities spend hours making an application but then don’t take the final step to understand why it wasn’t successful.

At the Foundation, we want to build long-term, constructive relationships with the charities we fund and constructive feedback is a critical part of our approach. Every two years, we take part in a bench-marking exercise against other funders. Conducted by nfp Synergy, they carry out an anonymous survey to find out what people say about us. (We do it this way because it is virtually impossible for funders to get honest feedback from applicants, particularly when money is involved). It’s easy to become complacent if you don’t have external validation and that’s why this is such an important exercise for us.

At the Foundation, we want to build long-term, constructive relationships with the charities we fund and constructive feedback is a critical part of our approach

One of the main points we learned from the nfp synergy survey was that we as a Foundation needed to get better at providing feedback to the charities who have applied to us for funds. Whilst many charities said they received feedback from us, some said it wasn’t useful. Getting feedback on your feedback is surely the worst type of feedback to get! But if the feedback isn’t useful, it’s effectively a waste of everyone’s time.

Giving challenging feedback is never easy, and some people are notoriously bad at doing so. It’s why many people fall into the trap of superficial comments such as ‘there was a lot of competition out there’ because it’s easier than having a deep and meaningful conversation.

Of course, feedback is subjective. Sometimes the person on the receiving end doesn’t agree with the perspective of the other person. Sometimes people feel criticised, especially knowing that they may have to share this information with their board or superiors. In some ways feedback is as hard to give as it is to receive.

That’s why we take the time to give such a personalised response. Charities invest time and energy in their applications, we have to respect them by doing the same in our response. Our grant managers visit and speak to hundreds of charities every year. They are skilled at what they do, can benchmark charities against each other and know what good looks like.  Their judgement and experience means that they can understand what they are looking at, can ask the right questions, signpost to others when appropriate and suggest new ways of solving problems. To us, they are much more than grant assessors, they are coaches, critical friends, allies and sounding boards all rolled into one.

Charities invest time and energy in their applications, we have to respect them by doing the same in our response

We know that a robust feedback loop can improve a charity’s service, target resources more effectively, create stronger relationships and ultimately stronger organisations. It’s why we encourage our grantees to seek and act on feedback from the people they support.

So, if you aren’t successful in this latest round, don’t be disheartened. Our feedback is well considered and well-intended and we hope it helps you become more successful in future applications. Not just with us, but other funders too. And remember whilst it’s good to reflect on and act on it, it’s equally important to retain your own perspective and not obsess –  and above all, don’t take it personally.

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